Alaska's Silver Millions (Part I)
The geography of Alaska, the life cycle of the salmon, and the salmon industry.
There is a view of the treaty between Russia and the United States that resulted in the purchase of Alaska. The commentator says that thousands of United States citizens protested this purchase, calling it "Seward's folly." Father Bernard Hubbard, the "glacier priest," is shown and states that on his first trip through Alaska he thought it a worthless land, but that he now appreciates its true value. An animated map contrasts the size of the United States with Alaska. Father Hubbard says that Alaska is divided into three areas: (1) the Yukon Valley, (2) southeastern Alaska, and (3) the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. A map indicates that the Yukon is on about the same line of latitude as Greenland. Views of snow and ice, dog teams, Eskimos, reindeer, and ice floes are accompanied by Father Hubbard's remarks that these represent the popular conception of the whole of Alaska.
Southeastern Alaska is shown to be in the same latitude as the British Isles. There follow scenes of Alaska's "inside passage," gold mines, government roads, dairy farms, waterfalls, and mountains that surround Juneau. Glaciers are shown at the sea's edge, and Father Hubbard explains that tremendous pressure causes them to break off and fall into the sea and float away as icebergs. An unusual method of iceberg formation is shown as a huge mass of ice rises from the depths of the ocean.
The third area, the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, is depicted as volcanic and mountainous. Steamy air moves across the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, which is devoid of plant and animal life. A view of a snowcovered mountain is followed by views of a smoking volcano. Father Hubbard observes that this is an unstable area and that the day is far off when it will be permanently formed.
The film's second section, the life cycle of the salmon, begins with an animated map tracing the route of the young salmon from Alaskan streams into the Gulf of Alaska where they vanish in the Pacific. A map indicates the route followed by the adult salmon in their return to their native streams. Salmon struggle upstream, their backs flashing in shallow water. Father Hubbard observes that in fresh water their color changes and that they are then unfit for human consumption. Mouths of the salmon develop curved jaws to facilitate digging in the gravel and mud where eggs are laid. Salmon are shown spawning and fanning mud over the eggs. The commentator explains that after spawning the adult salmon die. Hundreds of salmon are shown dead on the banks.
The third section begins with the preparation for a salmon run. Men stretch nets on salmon traps built on pilings. When salmon begin to run they are caught in the nets. The fish are emptied from the nets, transferred to the holds of a tender, and taken to the cannery.
The last section shows the processing of the fish after they arrive at the cannery. They are taken from the tender's holds to a fishhouse by means of a conveyer. At the fishhouse they are cleaned and sorted. They are then floated in water troughs to the cannery. A short sequence indicates the methods used to assemble cans from partially manufactured stock. Sharp knives cut the fish into sections, which disappear into a filling machine to emerge later packed in open cans. From the filler the cans travel on belts to a clincher where they are hermetically sealed. They are placed on trays, wheeled to a retort, and cooked under high pressure. Later the cans are cooled, labeled, boxed, and loaded in ships' holds to be carried to world markets.
Appraisal. Reported excellent for (1) presenting facts concerning the life cycle of the salmon, (2) portraying procedures in the catching, canning, and shipping of salmon, and (3) indicating the size, climate, and physical geography of Alaska. Found useful in developing an appreciation of the economic importance of Alaska.
The beauty of the scenery shown, the effective use of maps, and the dramatic quality of the story of the salmon resulted in enthusiastic reception of the film by teachers and students. Some teachers felt that the film gave an exaggerated sense of importance to the salmon industry in relation to the total economy of Alaska, and others noted that the tundra should not have been classified with the Yukon Valley. Teachers reported that this film contained no objectionable advertising.
The sound is good, photography excellent.
Ken Smith sez: "Acclaimed by school audiences throughout the country as one of the finest commercial films made." You'll wonder why this tedious travelogue, narrated by Bernard Hubbard ("the glacier priest") was sponsored by the American Can Company -- until the film starts to focus exclusively on the salmon canning industry. The salmon packing sequences are visually interesting, but that's about all that can be said about this film. Best moment: A nondescript iceberg breaks off of a glacier as Mr. Hubbard solemnly intones, "Here's a photo I waited eight years to get."
MAP, VS DOGS, ESKIMO, CARIBOU, ICE BREAKING UP & FISH
Subject: Alaska's Silver Millions
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: *. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Subject: A Fine Overview of Alaska's Treasures